(Vancouver) – The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is supporting the call for a public inquiry into the death of Raymond Silverfox. Mr. Silverfox died in the custody of Whitehorse RCMP in 2008 after vomiting 26 times over the course of 13 hours. Audio recording evidence of the incident was only released to the coroner days before the inquest. News reports of it indicate that police officers laughed and jeered at Mr. Silverfox while he vomited and that they refused him assistance. A coroner’s inquest found that Mr. Silverfox died as a consequence of an acute infection likely caused by the aspiration of his own vomit. The death was ruled accidental. That finding does not appear to answer key questions about the death and about police conduct relating to the detention of Mr. Silverfox. The family of Mr. Silverfox is seeking judicial review of the coroner’s decision, at least in part because of evidence before the coroner that officers knowingly left him in a pool of his own vomit. Coroner’s inquests are, as a matter of law, not permitted to make determinations of criminal or civil liability and fault and so those issues, if they are ever brought to court, remain to be determined.
Rob Holmes, BCCLA President “News reports of this incident are very troubling. The idea that law enforcement officers would laugh and deride someone in a cell is bad enough, but the idea that they would do so while the person was sick and lying in filth and vomit is callous. Refusing to deal with situations that call out for medical care and attention when someone is in custody is simply not good enough. The fact that this situation ended up with the death of the person in custody underscores the concerns that exist and the need for a thorough review of the matter.”
The RCMP recently announced five code of conduct investigations into officers involved in the death of Mr. Silverfox. The BCCLA has filed a police complaint with the RCMP Complaints Commission asking that the facts in the code of conduct investigation and any subsequent disciplinary action be made public. The RCMP have refused to name the members involved in the complaints.
The BCCLA has filed a different complaint against members of the Whitehorse detachment
involved in the death of Robert Stone, who died shortly after being transferred from RCMP custody to a detox centre. Mr. Stone had been in medical care shortly before his death and it is unclear why that care was halted and he was brought into custody. In both complaints, the BCCLA questions an apparent RCMP policy to keep in jail cells people who are suffering from acute intoxication and in need of medical attention.
Rob Holmes, BCCLA President “Acute intoxication is a serious medical issue. In most circumstances that should be addressed first and law enforcement concerns second. An inquiry is needed to determine whether those suffering from severe intoxication should be kept in police cells instead of in hospital in the care of medically trained staff and what policies should be in place to guide police, medical personnel and others. Far too many cell deaths involve cases of acute intoxication from drugs and alcohol. A public inquiry needs to explore that and find a solution to what appears to be a recurrent problem. Coroners’ inquests may come up with “cause of death” findings, but they lack the means and the jurisdiction to deal with this issue in the thorough manner that is required.”
Robert Holmes, President, 604-838-6856
David Eby, Executive Director, 778-865-7997